DETROIT -- When A.J. Griffin steps on the field, the A's usually leave it with a win. And they need every one of those they can get.
But the right-handed Griffin, who had given up a combined five earned runs over his previous six starts, surrendered a career-high five in one night against the powerful Tigers on Tuesday, and his teammates couldn't catch up in a lopsided 12-2 defeat in Detroit.
It marked the A's worst loss of the season, trumping a 10-1 decision against the Orioles on April 28, and temporarily moved the club 3 1/2 games behind the Rangers in the American League West. Later Tuesday night, an 11-3 Texas loss to the Angels kept Oakland three back.
This wasn't the kind of start the AL Wild Card-leading A's, who have dropped two straight, had in mind for their crucial 10-game road swing that also includes stops in New York and Texas -- especially with Griffin on the mound.
"Just obviously not his best stuff," manager Bob Melvin said. "We're used to seeing him painting the zone all the time and mixing his pitches. He just was off today. That's the first time we've seen him like that."
"I just wasn't executing pitches the way I usually do," Griffin said. "I wasn't pounding the zone. I was leaving pitches up, and they capitalized. It happens sometimes."
The rookie Griffin, who entered the matchup with a 6-0 ledger and 1.94 ERA, was just the second pitcher since the earned run became a stat in 1912 to be undefeated in at least his first 11 Major League starts, while maintaining an ERA under 2.00. The A's went 9-2 in that span.
But in just 4 2/3 innings, his shortest start of the season, Griffin was tagged for three home runs, equaling the total he had surrendered in his previous eight outings combined. Jhonny Peralta, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder did the damage off Griffin, and Cabrera caused more havoc in the eighth via a grand slam off righty reliever Jesse Chavez.
Still, Detroit's MVP candidate -- up to 40 home runs on the season -- went out of his way to acknowledge the talent that is Griffin, despite the youngster's shaky performance.
"He's amazing," Cabrera said. "I see that young guy, he knows how to pitch. He knows how to mix his pitches. He was aggressive. He pitched both sides of the plate. When you see a young guy like that be aggressive and know how to pitch at that age, pitching in the big leagues, you have to give him some credit. I was very impressed the first at-bat. And the second at-bat, when I got behind him, he made one mistake. That's what we hit, mistakes."
The A's, meanwhile, simply didn't hit anything, at least not when it mattered most. They went 2-for-8 with runners in scoring position, leaving a grand total of 10 on base. Stephen Drew, batting behind Brandon Moss, who collected three hits, went 0-for-4 and stranded six baserunners all on his own.
"My night's frustrating," Drew said. "Moss got some key hits and put me in a good situation, I just didn't get the job done. I wish the outcome could've been better."
It was Moss who put the A's on the board in the first on an RBI single that scored Josh Reddick, who had reached base via a hit. But the early offensive life against Tigers starter Max Scherzer quickly faded, even following Scherzer's departure after just two innings because of right shoulder fatigue.
Oakland managed just one run off Detroit's tired bullpen, which had worked five innings Monday against the White Sox, struggling to produce with a left handed-heavy unit that was meant for the righty Scherzer.
"At that point, they can match up with us there," Drew said.
"When you have a lineup of a lot of lefties at that point, it just is what it is, but we had some opportunities early on," Melvin added. "A hit here, a hit there, and it's a little bit of a different game, and then maybe we have some different guys in the game later.
"We haven't had too many like that. It just got out of hand. I can't think of too many games that have gotten out of hand, so you just have to move on. It's one game."